Sometimes this world, guys. I don’t know. It’s so messed up. I know you have those moments too. Wildfires and mass shootings and nasty politics. It’s just one big dumpster fire. All of it. At least it feels that way. It makes you want to go batsh*t crazy. (I am sorry, but I just couldn’t come up with another word that accurately captures the way it feels sometimes when we are surrounded by insanity).
It’s no wonder most of us struggle with some anxiety, some depression, some heightened sense that things aren’t going great overall. In fact, I have a friend whose doctor told her recently, “If you don’t have some anxiety, you aren’t paying attention.”
Here’s the thing. Yes, it’s a hot mess out there. But in my experience, there are ways to not get caught up in the paralyzing fear and the jaw-dropping-I-can’t-believe-people-these-days-shakin’-my-head feelings. Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed, there are a number of things I use as a litmus test to see if I’m doing my part to stay afloat. These are actually tips straight from the Bible. (God knew it would be a mess, and He knew we would need ways to deal. Nice of Him to share His wisdom, yes?) And since He gives us everything we need, here they are:
1. What goes in, comes out. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
If you watch the news 24/7, you’ll begin to believe pretty quickly that the world is crumbling right in front of you. It will seem you are surrounded because that’s all you are allowing yourself to hear and experience. Instead of being super consumed by news, consider consuming it in an intentional and practical way, such as subscribing to The Skimm or Top 5 CNN News stories (consider a couple networks so you get a somewhat “balanced” palette). This will allow you to have a finger on the pulse of what’s going on, but you won’t overwhelm your system with the nonstop mindless violence and negativity.
Yes, there are unspeakable things that happen, but it doesn’t do any good to remind yourself of those things over and over again. Having a general overview is good, knowing what’s going on in politics is good, being aware of our local leaders is good, being involved is even better (then you don’t feel so hopeless! You feel empowered!). But find a practical way to find that information without saturating your soul with joy-sucking news. The same goes for the media in general that you consume. If you spend most of your free time watching violent or creepy shows, or listening to vulgar music, that will become what’s in your mind. Cody and I don’t ever watch anything remotely scary because it just stays with us. I’d rather have my peace of mind. Find books that are good and wholesome. Find shows that are uplifting and funny and celebrate love. I am not sure why people look down on being wholesome nowadays. Wholesome isn’t just for the pioneer days or for the Amish or for nuns. It’s a really wise way to live your life, actually, and it protects you from more than you realize.
2. What goes in comes out, Part 2: Social Media. “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30
Obviously, I am using it. And I use it a lot. It’s an amazing tool, but just like anything, it can be flipped on its head and become destructive. So often, without realizing it, you look on your feed nonstop and you see everyone else doing things you aren’t doing. Every plate of food, every happy group of friends, every gym selfie, every mall purchase, you compare all of it in your head. In the process, you forget you’re only seeing one side of the story on social media. For every happy marriage photo, there are slammed doors and raised voices and trials you don’t see. For every picture of a cute little kid, there are tears and pain and frustration and exhaustion you don’t see. You just think, well, these people are happier, thinner, have better hair, make better choices, and are clearly better at life than me.
Here’s the thing: STOP. Literally, stop. Do a social media fast or limit it. I don’t care how dumb that sounds. If you spend all day looking at other people’s lives, when does that leave time for yours? What does it benefit you if someone else’s sweaty gym selfie makes you feel like crud when a) you don’t go to the gym, b) you hate to sweat, and c) you don’t intend ever to go sweat at the gym because you love to read books and go for long walks instead? What does it benefit you to let social media convince you how awesome their lives are when you could be busy doing your life? Everyone is different. Go be you and stop being envious of everyone else.
3. Boundaries.“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23
Boundaries. I repeat. Boundaries. This one not everyone will love. This is a huge challenge for me still. But. It is destructive to try and make everyone in your life happy. It is destructive to constantly come other people’s rescue when you have your own battles to fight. I’m not saying don’t be a good friend. I am saying be selective and be wary when you are choosing what to allow into your life. If you feel a red flag going up about a needy relationship…if you sense some anxiety over another commitment or opportunity that’s presented to you…if you’re feeling absolutely worn out and resentful toward anyone and everyone…it might be a good time to analyze aaaalllll the cups you’re pouring into. You might find you’re so busy with other people’s cups that yours is rolling around empty on the kitchen floor, completely forgotten. Don’t be afraid to make time for your run, to go to bed early (even before your spouse) so you can read or write, don’t be afraid to claim the TV so you can watch Fuller House (is this just me??), don’t be afraid to block off a couple days or a couple evenings or a weekend or make plans with your friends or have weekly movie nights with your family that are non-negotiable. Make your life what you want it to be.
4. Healthy food and exercise. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
I am not saying be skinny. I am not saying have a six-pack. I am not saying be a gym rat. I am not saying get up at 5:30 a.m. to work out or else you suck. I am saying take care of your body. I am saying get some sun and fresh air. I am saying that healthy food and exercise are proven to lower stress levels, fight illness, boost your mood, and make you happier. So why wouldn’t you try this before anything else?? I feel frazzled, stressed, tired when I don’t get sunshine, when I am not moving my body, when I am sedentary too long. We were designed to live in a sunny garden outside all the time (Genesis 1). We were built for that. And now we live in this broken world where we have to work and sit at desks and breathe recycled air and do things we don’t wanna do instead of sitting in a garden all day, soaking up the sun and enjoying the presence of God. But we can’t anymore because of sin. My go-to’s when I feel crummy are sun, fresh air, movement, water, and salads. (Not to say you can’t enjoy treats! All things in moderation, of course)… (Also one disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, so if you feel like crap, see what your doc says. But maybe try diet and exercise first).
5. Helping people. “…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 23:11
I know I mentioned boundaries earlier, but in the same vein, nothing will change your perspective more than taking a stroll in someone else’s shoes. Get together with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Let the kids play. Write someone an encouraging note. Take dinner to a new mom or to the family of someone who is very sick. Take a minute and look around your own community, paying attention to what kinds of needs there are. Offer to babysit. Take someone out for dinner or lattes. Genuinely ask someone, “How are you really doing?” and just listen without offering advice. Hand out bags of cookies during the holidays to the waitress, the bus driver, the cashier, the janitor.
Every year, we take our kids caroling at a local nursing home. In the weeks leading up to it, we make tons of Christmas cards to pass out. These are the simplest cards. But I can’t describe the joy they bring to the residents. The first time we did it, sweet Heidi at the age of 4 told us she felt close to God while we were there celebrating Christmas. This moved me since I don’t love being in nursing homes. But it showed me that getting out of your bubble and comfort zone, and encouraging your kids to do the same, grows your heart in faith and love.
6. Gratitude “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Colossians 4:2 – This has been a game changer for me. I even blogged about how it changed my marriage years ago. Gratitude doesn’t always come easily. We don’t always realize how time and circumstances wear down our childlike ability to be happy and thankful, no matter what’s going on in our lives. Our expectations change. We become self-righteous. We become entitled, thinking we deserve a happy life without hardships. Our brains become trained on what’s going wrong, and we tend to forget about all that’s going right. We focus on what we lost instead of what we had and what are gaining. We stay mad about how someone hurt us instead of remembering how well they love us most of the time. Something as simple as keeping a gratitude journal by your bed and recording even three things each day that you’re thankful for can uplift your heart more than you realize. (Doesn’t hurt to try it, right?)
I am not a therapist, nor am I a licensed physician. But this world will drive us mad. God knew that, so He gave us a guide to navigate this life to keep our sanity, our peace, and our very lives in tact. So many of us are anxious and depressed and on edge because of what we see and hear. God anticipated this. If we simply take it all at face value and let ourselves be swayed by what culture says is happening and what’s important, we will go batsh*t crazy. But if we remind ourselves what is good and true, fix our eyes on beauty and goodness, we can be the light we all so desperately are looking for.
The next time you’re feeling lost and looking for the light, remember you can reflect it too. But we have to let His light in first, every day with intention. If we all do that, we might find we can see a whole lot clearer and we might even like what we see.
“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” L.R. Knost
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16